Government needs strategy to kick-start R&D after COVID, says pharma body

The UK has been leading research into the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the country’s pharma trade body, but there needs to be a strategy to restart trials into other diseases.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said that restarting research into diseases such as cancer would be the first step in the journey to recovery following the pandemic.

As part of its response to the pandemic the government has set up a process for nationally prioritising and approving urgent public health research studies – but this has meant that research into other diseases has paused.

In its second annual report on the state of UK clinical trials, the ABPI compared how the UK performed against other countries in Europe and other influential countries around the world.

Latest data shows that non-COVID studies are restarting after being put on hold while many companies turned their attention to developing vaccines or therapies to counter the pandemic.

As of 9th September, data from the NIHR Clinical Research Network has shown that 45% of non-COVID studies are open to recruitment and 36% of those have been recruiting since June.

Chief Executive of the ABPI Richard Torbett said: “The UK performs very well on the world stage in clinical trials, but COVID-19 is presenting us with many challenges.

“It is crucial that the government has a plan for the safe and sustainable restart of non-COVID trials, recognising the extra pressures the NHS is facing.”

Cancer remains the top area for UK clinical trials with 226 trials taking place in 2018, with research on the immune system coming next with 94 trials.

The UK led the rest of Europe in the number of early phase 1 and phase 2 clinical trials.

In phase 3, the UK ranked third in Europe behind Germany and Spain and was fourth globally behind the US.

The ABPI noted that this is an improvement over the previous report, where the UK was ranked fifth – but this will need to improve further if the UK is to become the science superpower envisioned by the government.

Overall the US continued to lead globally in all phases of research and the ABPI pointed out that improving the number of phase 3 trials conducted in the country could have benefits for patients.

More of them would have early access to the latest and potentially life-saving therapies as a result, the trade body argued.

The NHS also benefited from £355 million in income from trials and saved £26.6 million from where trial drugs were used in place of standard.

The total amount invested by pharma in UK R&D was £4.5 billion and the life sciences industry employed over 240,000 people across 5,870 businesses, generating a turnover of £73.8 billion.

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